Haunting, cerebral & definitely unsettling, THE FALL is a mash-up of TRUE DETECTIVE meets SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. This underrated UK series stars GILLIAN ANDERSON as a detective in Belfast tracking a serial rapist & murderer Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY). Do you need something dark & smart with compelling characters to tie you over until the next DETECTIVE? Well, look no further. Enjoy THE FALL.
The 2nd Season Premiere recently aired on BRAVO (in Canada). If you haven’t discovered THE FALL, hidden in its own isolated dark corner, you can find Season 1 on Netflix . I should also mention this is R-Rated material. The series is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart. If you can handle this sort of unnerving material then don’t let this criminally ignored series SLIP/THROUGH the cracks.
This season starts right where we left off. I love it when a series does that – especially a well-crafted crime mystery like THE FALL. I’m not a fan of the weekly procedurals where the authorities solve a case in under an hour. I’m more a fan of lengthy arcs that are fully explored. I’m thinking of shows like TRUE DETECTIVE, GRACEPOINT, THE KILLING, and TWIN PEAKS. I really enjoy trying to solve the case alongside the characters. I like the slow-bleed of clues that build towards an eventual reveal.
Specifically, with THE FALL, we (the viewers) are extremely engaged primarily due to dramatic irony. We know who the killer is. The authorities don’t. The real mystery here is what motivates Paul Spector? And conversely, what motivates his nemesis Anderson?
Gillian Anderson’s character, STELLA Gibson, is very stoic, stern, and controlled. She can be aggressive when needed. Relentless even. A stand-out moment from this episode is when she is confronted by low-rent thugs at her car. They threaten her, trying to scare her from returning to their neighbourhood. She doesn’t budge. In fact, she turns the tables in an unexpected way. Gangster #1 is face-to-face with Anderson, when she suddenly fakes a lunged step at him. He flinches from her threat. I love it. She wasn’t intimidated at all. She took control of the situation despite the David & Goliath-like size discrepancy. THIS is our hero in THE FALL.
One of the creepier moments involves Dornan’s character, Spector. Away from home, his young daughter calls asking for her dolls. She can’t find them. She left them behind. She’s upset. This is the set-up for a truly disturbing moment. Spector has temporarily retired from his Ted Bundy-like activities, but he still has urges. To sleep at night, he places a comfort object on his pillow. That object? His daughter’s doll – hog-tied.
Once again, Dornan is able to scare us so deeply with little to no dialogue. His presence is absolutely menacing, as we try and imagine what’s going on inside his fractured mind. It’s not like he’s this Keanu Reeves-esque blank face. It’s a subtle command of his emotions. I’m always wondering what’s going on under the “tip of the iceberg”. Spector is a masked killer like MICHAEL MYERS from HALLOWEEN, except his mask is no plastic. It’s his own face, hiding his emotions and the invisible monster within.
There’s a very compelling scene on the train – where Spector speaks. He’s seated across from an attractive blonde. There’s a newspaper on the table. There’s a WANTED picture with an artist rendition of his “mask”. With your typical fiction, the character runs away. Scared. Instead, here we have an expertly crafted scene where Spector addresses the situation head-on. He asks her, “Does that look like me?” She agrees. He draws a beard on the picture, to more clearly resemble himself. He jests, “How about now?”
Instead of being fearful, Spector is aroused. He’s toying with his prey. Like TRICKY sang, “I am the devil, and they say I’m the exorcist.” He gets off on knowing he can trick anyone despite any evidence staring them right in their face. After all, wouldn’t YOU assume the REAL killer would never do something like THAT?
Spector can’t help himself. He’s trying to quit the depravity “cold turkey”. But he’s tempted at every moment. I love how the tension slowly builds. We fear he will kill again. Momentum builds – like the train these characters are on. Which, by the way, was a great choice from the creative team. This scene could have been in the train station or a café or whatever, but instead the writer(?) thought of way to connect the interior with the exterior. Great symmetry. For me, this visual metaphor was really effective. Now what happens when Spector gets derailed?
Back with Anderson’s character… Just like Spector, the papers have also published HER dirty little secret. Stella had a recent affair with a recently murdered policeman. I’m thinking she wants to find out how this story got leaked. She talks to the female cop she trusted in Season 1. Stella makes sure to mention how much she trusts the cop and how she needs someone like her on her side. I suspect she was investigating” her “trusted friend.” She’s trying to provoke an emotion of betrayal if the cop truly did sell the story to the papers. Subtle. I love how this show isn’t overtly obvious with every single moment.
THE FALL occasionally highlights a voice over / narration to great effect. In this episode, Stella talks about Spector’s escalation of violence and his deviant urges. During her dialogue (off-screen), we see Spector prepare for his next attack. Not only are we NOT forced to watch long speeches, but we also get those words paired with specific imagery illuminating a different subtext. By telling us how evil this madman is AS we watch him stalk his prey assures we are even more scared. It’s a terrifying build of tension – like climbing that first hill on a roller-coaster.
The unsuspecting victim turns out to be Spector’s babysitter from Season 1. His wife confronted her about their escapades. And now he’s out to clean-up the mess. I’m anticipating something bad here. I fear for her safety. Then go figure, SHE turns the tables on HIM, as her kiss turns into a bite. She draws blood. Whereas earlier Stella made that thug flinch, this baddie didn’t even react (from an actual attack). Again, great symmetry.
Both Anderson and Dornan portray very emotionally controlled characters. They are an equal match reminding me of the heavyweight sparring between Clarice Starling & Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. By the way, Lecter rhymes with Spector (purposeful or not). I love the character name of Spector though. It reminds me of the homonym “spectre”: a ghost, a shadow of the night, an invisible monster.
Before I end this review on the scariest & most disturbing scene of the episode, I must mention a little snippet of dialogue from Anderson. Her cop friend asks about her nails, like if they are sharp. She mentions this since the murdered cop she slept with had claw marks on his back. Anderson volunteers her nails – like see, not sharp. Then, as an aside, she sombrely says, “Not anymore.” This had me raking my brain. Did she scratch him? I can’t remember it’s been a while since season 1. [ I don’t Google research, I just write. ] But I assume she must have trimmed her nails, expecting this query. She’s hiding this from her “trusted friend” for some unknown reason. Hmmm.
Spector stalks his prey. A little girl enters a dark hallway, as Spector ascends their stairs. “Who are you?” Whoah, so that creeped me out on its own. And it just gets worse (um, better?) as the tension mounts. Spector answers, “Peter. Peter Picker.” Dornan shows his versatility here with his playful innocence as he recites the rhyme about Peter Picker. And he has fun doing it. I really believe the character enjoys himself in the most innocent way possible. I’m scared deeply at the idea that this man can have two sides to his personality that are so distant. How can this juvenile man-child be a cold-blooded killer?
That is what’s most terrifying. TED BUNDY (for example) was a charismatic good-looking man who just happens to also be one of the worst serial killers in America’s recent history. The darkness of man, however frightening, is also compelling.
THE FALL explores this –descent- unlike any other show on American television. I crave these sort of “intellectual” thrillers made for “grown-ups”. There just doesn’t seem to be all that many options for dark cerebral entertainment. I think the audience is ready – look at the success of TRUE DETECTIVE.
What do you think? Are you a fan of long-form mysteries made for adults?
Should America bring these types of foreign shows over to cable rather than specialty services like Netflix?
Why do remakes of BROADCHURCH and THE KILLING underwhelm with their adaptations? For me, it’s definitely not indicative of their content.